Somehow, the Chicago Bears' quarterback shuffle and Tony Banks' little "break" a few weeks ago don't seem so important now.
Banks completed 24 of 31 passes for 202 yards and one touchdown and ran for another score Sunday as the St. Louis Rams beat the Bears 20-12. Ricky Proehl, Chicago's leading receiver last year, caught eight passes for 99 yards and a score, and Jeff Wilkins kicked two field goals.
"I was as relaxed as I've been all season today," said Banks, who was booed by St. Louis fans two weeks ago after staying behind after the team's loss in Miami and skipping a film session.
"For one reason or another, I can't put my finger on it, I woke up this morning and I didn't have as many butterflies in my stomach as there have been," he said. "`We had a great game plan in today, and we stuck to it."
The victory broke a three-game losing streak for the Rams (3-6) and was their first victory in Chicago since Nov. 3, 1986. It was the first loss in four years after a bye week for the Bears (3-6), who had won two consecutive games and three of their last four.
| Steve Stenstrom, making his first NFL start, is crunched by the Rams' defense Sunday. (AP) |
Just like they have all year, though, the Bears made it lively at the end. A safety closed Chicago to 20-12 with 1:59 left, and after the Rams punted the Bears took over on their own 27. After a pass-interference call and a 5-yard penalty, Steve Stenstrom, making his first-ever NFL start, threw a 48-yard pass to Bobby Engram to put the Bears at the Rams 20.
But after Edgar Bennett's 11-yard run, Stenstrom wasted a down by spiking the ball to stop the clock. His next three passes -- to Curtis Conway, Engram and Chris Penn -- were incomplete.
"It's probably better to do that, get in the huddle and make the right call, than analyze it from the line of scrimmage," Stenstrom said of the spike. "We probably could have had a fourth play that would have given us another shot at the end zone, and as it turned out, we would have loved that shot back, but I don't question it at all."
Stenstrom, who was starting in place of the injured Erik Kramer, was solid most of the day. Though he hadn't played a down since last November and his last start was in 1994 -- when he was still wearing a Stanford uniform -- he came out looking like he does this every week.
He completed his first nine passes, not missing until about 30 seconds before halftime. He moved the Bears 70 yards in 12 plays on the first drive, hitting Penn with a 27-yard pass and even scrambling for 14 yards. He capped the drive with a 4-yard scoring pass to Conway, giving the Bears a 7-0 lead.
But Stenstrom needed help and didn't get much of it. Conway caught just three passes for 27 yards, dropped a pass in the end zone and botched a trick play to Engram that could have led to another score.
"Today's game for me was just terrible. There's no excuse for it. It's just totally not acceptable," Conway said. "Instead of just going out there and playing football, there was a whole lot of things going through my head."
Stenstrom finished 15-of-25 for 154 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
"It's hard to be too objective at this point with the team not winning," he said. "I wanted to come in and be efficient and give this team a chance to win the game. We'll see on film what I could have done better."
Banks, meanwhile, did everything right and so did the players around him. The Rams came in ranked 20th in passing offense, while the Bears had the fifth-best pass defense in the league, but the roles were reversed Sunday.
St. Louis moved the ball at will as Banks threw short, quick hitches to move the Rams. He got excellent protection from his line and spread his passes around.
"It's nice to see him growing here, going into the second half of the season," Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. "It helps him grow and he experiences success, he knows he can do it. He stepped up and made some big plays."
He hit Proehl with a 3-yard scoring pass on the Rams' first drive to tie the game at 7. With 58 seconds left in the first half, Banks was on the Bears 7-yard line when Marty Carter came flying at him. Carter missed, and Banks took off for the end zone, scoring on th 7-yard keeper to make it 14-7.
The Rams got field goals of 24 and 33 yards in the second half, while Jeff Jaeger kicked a 31-yard field goal for the Bears.
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